Jackson Stent and Antun Maricevic played alongside each other for two years as Casper College Thunderbirds. Together they helped lead the T-Birds to the NJCAA Region IX Tournament last month and together, on Tuesday, they cemented their futures.
The two foreign-born (Stent from New Zealand, Maricevic from Croatia) players officially signed their letters of intent to separate NCAA Division I programs inside the lobby of Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. Maricevic, wearing a University of South Florida hat and long-sleeved shirt, signed with the Bulls while Stent, wearing a ‘Houston Strong’ shirt, signed with Houston Baptist.
Of separate backgrounds, the two came together as teammates seemingly by chance. Maricevic moved from the family farm in Croatia to Longmont, Colorado, in hopes of closing in on his NBA dreams. Stent, on the other hand, enrolled at Nicholls State from high school in New Zealand before transferring at the end of his redshirt freshman season.
Together they helped the T-Birds go 22-10 in their final season at Casper College. Maricevic started 24 games and missed three games due to illness. He still averaged a team-leading 15.5 points in 25.7 minutes per game.
Stent overcame an injury riddled freshman year to start in half of the 32 games in which he played. The forward averaged 6.9 points in 15.2 minutes.
The knee injury still bothered him enough to limit his minutes and starts, especially in the middle of the season. But by the season’s end he was back to full health and one of the T-Birds’ most valued contributors.
“I had a bit of a struggle midseason just with my form and stuff like that,” Stent said. “But near the end of the season it collected. But I worked hard this year to overcome the knee injury that kept me out of it a bit last year. So it was good to be healthy this year.”
Both Stent and Maricevic needed to exhibit patience going into their final seasons in Casper. Neither received a multitude of DI offers so T-Birds head coach Dan Russell told both to stay patient and that the schools would eventually come. South Florida entered Maricevic’s mind early and remained a constant even when Goliaths like Kansas showed interest. Stent didn’t get nearly as many DI offers but Houston Baptist stood out once contact was made.
Neither player made their college choice official until two weeks after the season. Maricevic visited South Florida and committed two days later. Stent announced his commitment to Houston Baptist within two weeks after that.
“I just trust in the coaches,” Maricevic said. “I trust coach Russell and I trust the coaches at South Florida.”
Maricevic joins a South Florida program that just completed its first season under coach Brian Gregory. The Bulls finished in the lower half of the American Athletic Conference, which had three programs punch their respective tickets to the NCAA Tournament.
Houston Baptist is a new member of the Southland Conference and is back to being a DI program following a a two-decade break as an NAIA school. Stent will get to play against his former teammates at Nicholls State, which is also a Southland Conference member.
Both are excited for their futures, neither of which will likely include snow. They were also quick to mention thankfulness for their teammates, who seized the opportunity to swarm the two after signings were complete.
“Couldn’t ask for better teammates,” Stent said, with those same teammates eagerly watching less than 10 feet away.